Why isn’t the Argument on Climate Change Over?

Increasingly in the 21st century, the condition of the environment has become a topic of discussion among scientists, politicians, and the general public. Environmental programs in college are becoming more popular (I myself am working towards a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies). There is a large amount of evidence that the Earth is experiencing climate change and that humans are a major cause (check out NASA’s website for specifics). As of 2013, 97% or more of “actively publishing climate scientists” believe this to be true (again, check out the website!). Interestingly, the percentage of agreement is not as high for everybody else. When polled in 2009, only 49% of people believed that human activity causes global warming. How can there be such a large discrepancy in numbers? What is the message that people are being sent?

The fact is, it’s not just scientists that are swaying the public. Politicians are also interested in the topic, and they tend to get far more attention with the press. In this sphere, it seems that there is even less agreement on the issue (if you’d like to read about about current politicians that either don’t believe in climate change or human’s role in it, click here and here). How does this impact the average American?

An important rhetorical device going on here is ethos. If you are a respected and important figure in society, people are more likely to believe what you say. This doesn’t always work in a logical way; using a basketball player to promote toothpaste may not make sense, but celebrity endorsement is actually a proven strategy. Therefore, when a senator says that he doesn’t believe that the Earth is warming, he may be more persuasive than the unknown scientist who is showing you the evidence.

Of course, there are other factors at play in the climate change debate. There are large sums of money hinging on this issue, particularly for companies that profit from using coal and gas. It’s also hard to convince people of something that they can’t directly see and experience. To call this issue “complicated” doesn’t even begin to cover it. But, whatever your beliefs, I think it is important to rely on more than simply the argument of politicians. Analyze the rhetorical situation and ask yourself whether their arguments appeal to you and why. Are they basing it off of facts, emotions, their character? Remember that everybody puts their views out for a reason and recognize that doing your own research on the issue can help you come to your own informed decision.

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